Monday, March 23, 2009

On Spirituality and Creativity - Part 1

This is the Burning Bush revelation referred to in humorous "Preface" I posted on Saturday. 

The whole purpose for my Lenten project was to write about what I tentatively called "secular spirituality."  I did not know how to define that exactly, which is the reason I wanted to write about it. I wanted to explore in words something I had been experiencing for some time.  In preparation for that exercise, it was necessary to explore various other aspects of my life (most of those detailed reflections have gone into my personal Journal and will not be shared here). My Lenten project is rather like putting together a puzzle.  The first phase involves turning all the pieces face up and grouping the colors together before I can even begin piecing the puzzle together.  At this point, I feel as though I'm still turning over pieces, but I'm starting to see some color patterns emerging.  Therefore, I decided to make a tentative start on my "secular spirituality" reflection this weekend, which is approximately the midpoint of Lent.  It seemed like a good time to try at least to start herding the idea cats in the general direction of a point.

Whenever I wander down new paths here in Wonderland, I tend to have amazing experiences.  This one was a kind of Cheshire Cat encounter.  It was there and then it was gone, but the laughter is still echoing.  For once in my life I got the joke almost immediately and joined in the godly laughter right away.  [This is one of those times when it is sort of fun to imagine an actual pantheon of gods on Mt. Olympus sitting around swilling mead and slapping their knees at the hilarity of my bumbling efforts.  If nothing else it would be nice to think that I might provide a source of amusement to whatever gods there may be.]

Here's the "revelation" (don't everybody go DUH all at once): I realized that my mid-life burst of creativity  that empowered me to write eight full draft novels (plus three in progress and a whole bunch of ideas in my writing folder) not only followed but was actually triggered by my exodus from the Church. As soon as that realization broke the surface of my consciousness, I came to a full stop in writing the sentence, and the word "Why?" bubbled up in my brain.  Immediately thereafter, the bubble exploded into a Revelation that was so amazingly obvious I sat here and laughed out loud. It has probably been obvious to anybody who has read my blog exactly what has been going on, but I guess I was too busy writing to read the damned thing.  

For one thing, setting aside church work freed up several hours a week I didn't have before.  Suddenly I had a few extra hours a week to do with as I pleased. That's always good, but for once in my life I seem to have actually used at least some of  that free time creatively instead of just pissing it away. 

Secondly, cutting myself off from the Church shut off my principal outlet for expressing my spirituality. I had always struggled with the fact that my inner experience of Reality was significantly different from the Church's teachings.  Nevertheless, most of the time the Church was a reasonable and safe [That is a key word!] outlet for my religious leanings -- at least, so long as I kept my mouth shut about all the "other" aspects of my spirituality that often contradicted the Church's teachings.  In other words, as long as I behaved in accordance with the expectations of the church people, I had the opportunity to participate in common worship and community life, thereby, releasing some of my spiritual energy.  

The problem with that was that my Church involvement served as a kind of escape valve that let off enough just enough steam to keep my creative engine from firing up and getting in gear.  The other problem (and a bigger one) was that the Church does not exactly encourage renegades who have all kinds of odd religious ideas, so I intentionally held back from poking around and opening too many doors in my interior castle because I knew I would find a lot of stuff that wouldn't fit in the Church's permissible framework. I knew that  would get me into trouble, so I refrained from exploring those areas.

The result of that was that, as long as I remained holed up in the "safety" of the Church, I held myself back from fully exploring, much less expressing, my own true spiritual self.  I had long since reached the point of spiritual formation beyond which I could go and still remain in the Church. Hell, I think I arrived at spiritual consciousness too far gone for Christianity, but I spent forty years or so trying like the dickens to fit in. Finally, I just couldn't take the disconnect between what I saw with my Inner Eye and what I experienced in the Church. Finally, after years of ignoring it, running from it, and arguing with it, I followed the Spirit Voice into the Wilderness.

I did not realize until today that, after the shackles of the Church were off, I actually started looking at things with new eyes, and an open mind, heart and soul.  Tentatively at first, I entered Wonderland where Reality is totally different than anything I ever knew before.  I did not take up meditation and fasting or Eastern practices (I did that in my 20's).  I stopped praying in the way I had done since childhood (at least most of the time) and tried to think of myself as a post-Christian (which is still difficult). For the most part I even stopped reading books on religion and spirituality, except for rare treats when a particularly wonderful book might happen my way.  Today, I think of institutional religion as a sort of "been there, done that, do no want to go there again" kind of experience. [That does not stop me from cherishing my memories and occasionally waxing nostalgic over the whole experience. Sometimes I wish I were more like Esau than like Jacob. Actually, I wish that fairly often!]  

In any case, I started living what I thought of as a totally "secular" life.  My earlier infatuation with Brother Lawrence and St. Theresa of Avila proved very helpful in my new life.  I learned to see the sanctity in daily routine, to the point that my ordinary daily activities were transformed into Liturgy.  I learned to see ordinary objects as holy vessels, manifesting the creativity and talent of the people who invented and manufactured them; the most mundane things became "fruit of the vine and work of human hands" consecrated by daily use into sacred objects. The world still shimmered and glimpses of the Holy peeked out from every tree and bird and bush. Voices still murmured in my heart, but I heeded St. Theresa's advice to ignore them, and they eventually went away. To my amazement, I learned that the so-called "secular" world is at every bit as sacred as the "religious" world, without that middle layer of ministers and magesterium telling me what to believe and how to think.

I understand now why the nuns who taught my catechism classes railed so virulently against secular humanists. Good little Catholic kids were a whole lot more likely to be tempted by secularism in the modern world than by overt sin and wickedness.  The Church says "outside the Church there is no salvation" and tries to keep the faithful inside. Religion is too often  like the movie The Truman Show. In order to protect the faithful, the Church would keep them confined and ignorant of the outside world, where they are "safe"  --  and can be controlled. 

In Wonderland, there is no need for salvation.  Creation itself is sacred and we who are in Creation and of Creation exist for the purpose of participating in the holy act of creating.  I am not sure that it matters what we create.  We may invent material things.  We may create beautiful art.  We may create loving homes. We may create meals that nurture and please our loved ones or that feed the poor and hungry. We may be creative and productive employees, regardless of our occupation.  It doesn't matter! What matters is that we stretch ourselves to participate in the holy act of creation at every possible opportunity. 

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